As demonstrated with stories like The Jungle Book and Tarzan, people have a fascination with the idea of a person being abandoned as a child and growing up among wild animals, completely cut off from civilization. Though it seems like an impossible fantasy, there have been many documented cases of “feral children” who spent some time among animals.
The challenges of living in the wild are unimaginable for most of us. But when one “wild child” found himself back amongst society, it would be perhaps the most difficult thing in his life…
Featured photo credit: www.farodevigo.es
Born of Tragedy
In 1946, a woman went into labor in Añora, in the Córdoba of Span. She would successfully give birth to a baby boy named Marcos but would unfortunately die during childbirth. After raising him alone for 3 years, Marcos’ father remarried and went to live with a woman in Fuencaliente.
Memories of Pain
When Marcos looked back on those years of his life, he can remember nothing but abuse at the hands of his stepmother and indifference from his father. That’s why when his parents sold Marcos to a goat herder at the age of 6, it felt like a blessing, even though he was leaving his parents behind…
Living on the Mountain
The goat herder was an aging man who lived alone in the mountains of Sierra Morena and purchased Marcos presumably to have someone to help him with his daily tasks. Living with the old man was quiet and peaceful, if not lonesome. The goat herder taught Marcos how to care for the animals and to hunt rabbits and partridges with traps made of sticks and leaves.
But just a year after he’d gone to live with the herdsman, the elderly man passed away, leaving Marcos completely alone on the mountainside. The 7-year-old preferred the solitude of the mountains to the thought of human company, which he associated with the abuse he’d gotten from his parents, so he made no attempt to leave…
Instead he stayed on the mountainside, using his trapping skills as well as some ingenuity to feed himself. “The wild boars ate tubers buried under the soil,” Macros said. “They found them because they smelled them. When they were digging in the soil looking for them, I threw a stone at them. They would run away and then I would steal the tubers.”
Boy Among Wolves
Marcos survived alone like this for some time until a bizarre encounter. “One day I went into a cave and started to play with wolf cubs that lived there and I fell asleep,” he said. “Later, the mother brought food for them and I woke up.”…
The mother wolf wasn’t happy to see Marcos. “She saw me and looked fiercely at me,” he recalled. But rather than attack him, the mother wolf began ripping apart the meat she’d brought and giving it to her cubs. “A cub got close to me and I tried to steal his food, because I was hungry as well. The mother pawed at me. I backed off.”
Then, in a defining moment, the mother wolf’s attitude softened. “After feeding her pups she threw me a piece of meat,’ said Marcos. “I didn’t want to touch it because I thought she was going to attack me.” But the boy dared to take the meat after the wolf repeatedly pushed it toward him with her nose. As he started to eat it, “she put her tongue out and started to lick me,” he said…
“After that, I was one of the family.” Marcos Rodríguez Pantoja lived there in the cave, which was part of an abandoned mine, with the wolves and another animal companion, a snake he had befriended. “I made a nest for [the snake] and gave her milk from the goats. She followed me everywhere and protected me,” he said.
The Mountain Book
Like a Spanish “Mowgli,” Marcos gradually replaced his human ways for wild ones, moving around the mountainous terrain in a hunched half-crawl and replacing his words with growls and animal sounds. He could perfectly imitate wolf calls, the sounds of deer, fox, the booted eagle, and other animals…
Exposed to the Elements
He quickly outgrew his shoes and his clothing wore away to rags, leaving the child barefoot and half-naked in the elements. But living outdoors for so long, the elements didn’t bother him. “I only wrapped my feet up when they hurt because of the snow,” he said.” I had such big calluses on my feet that kicking a rock was like kicking a ball.”
Wild and Free
Despite the hardships, Marcos recalls that time as the happiest and most free time of his life. For more than a dozen years, he lived a contented life with his “family” until one day, some members of the Guardia Civil happened upon him by chance. The men took Marcos, now 19, by force to Fuencaliente, the small village at the foot of the mountains where his father lived…
When his father was brought to identify Marcos, it was far from a heartwarming reunion. “I felt nothing when I saw him,” Marcos said. “He only asked me one thing: ‘Where is your jacket?’ As if I would still be wearing the jacket I had when I left!”
Leaving the life he’d known and rejoining civilization was a jarring and difficult experience for the feral 19-year-old. Marcos could barely pronounce a few words and had forgotten how to do the simplest tasks, so he was brought to a church in Madrid to live with nuns who attempted to reorient him to living with humans…
One experience from that time that well summed up the difficulties was when the nuns tried to give him a bowl of soup. Marcos looked at the bowl with confusion, then cupped his hands and dipped them into the broth. The hot soup made him jump and the bowl ended up shattered on the floor.
In addition to reteaching him human skills, the nuns tried to address Marcos’ physical problems as well. He was confined to a wheelchair for a while because he couldn’t walk after they cut all the calluses off of his feet. They also built a wooden contraption Marcos had to wear to correct spinal problems from constantly crouching for so many years…
Perhaps most difficult for Marcos was coming to the hustle and bustle of civilization after the solitude of the mountains. “I could not cope with so much noise… the cars… and people going back and forwards like ants,” he said. None of that got any easier when he had to perform his mandatory year of military service.
The colonel found it so difficult to get Marcos to behave like a proper soldier, he eventually gave up. After the military, Marcos held a bunch of menial jobs in hospitality and construction, where his naivete was often exploited by malicious bosses. He was also cheated by strangers many times…
But Marcos found respite from the world of jobs after he was injured at a construction site and began receiving a half-pension. He was able to purchase a small home in the village of Rante, where he lived without furniture, preferring a number of blankets on the floor to a bed. Enjoying the company of others, he lends a hand at Rante’s only bar.
Reasons to Stay
Marcos said he thought about returning to live in the wild many times, but said “I’m used to this life now and there are so many things that I didn’t have there, like music.” The 72-year-old has taught himself to play piano and guitar by ear. Another thing he wouldn’t give up is women. “Women are one good reason to stay here,” he said with a smile. “I think they laugh at me because I don’t know about politics or soccer,” he said. However, his doctor replied, “laugh back at them. Everyone knows less than you.” You can learn more about Marcos Rodríguez Pantoja by watching the documentary about him called Among Wolves.